Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on February 11, 2021

7 Reasons You Won’t Start Studying Until It’s Too Late, And What To Do About It

7 Reasons You Won’t Start Studying Until It’s Too Late, And What To Do About It

For most of us, the experience of studying for an exam can be captured in one word: panic. You’ve got 18 hours, exhausted, and sitting there staring at an equations sheet full of gibberish. Why? Why didn’t I start earlier?

Believe it or not, there are forces acting against you, pulling you away from starting early enough so that you can comfortably learn new material. Here are 7 of the most insidious reasons why you don’t start early, and what you can do about it.

1. You’re anticipating hard work

Procrastination is generally viewed as this guilt-ridden character defect shared almost universally by all students. The problem is, this is exactly what we should expect to happen from an evolutionary perspective.

Humans are known to be cognitive misers:[1] we conserve mental resources whenever possible, especially when facing tasks not viewed as “essential to our survival.”

In other words, we put off studying until the last minute because (1) we know the work is hard and will require a lot of mental energy, and (2) until there’s the threat of actually failing the exam (and therefore potentially being humiliated publicly) we’re not in enough emotional pain to motivate us to start studying.

Additionally, when your brain anticipates multiple outcomes that are all viewed as “painful” (the pain of studying vs. the pain of failing out of college) you become immobilized, unable to choose the lesser of two evils, and push off the work even further.

Schedule in time for yourself first and then fill in the gaps with study time.

As Niel Fiore discusses in bestselling classic, The Now Habit, part of the reason you procrastinate is because you see no end in site.

Think of the difference between a 100 yard dash and a marathon. In the first case you’re able to give maximum effort because you can see the finish line and know it will be over soon. The marathon runner is not so lucky. They know there’s a long road ahead filled with pain and exhaustion, and subconsciously conserve their effort to ensure they can make it through all 26.2 miles.

This is all to say, if you know you get to go hang out in your buddy’s dorm room and goof off for an hour after you study, you’re much more likely to want to invest that energy.

As a side benefit, you end up taking advantage of Parkinson’s Law. Because your work expands to fill the time allotted, by scheduling less time for studying, you actually become more productive and focused.

Advertising

2. You’re sleep deprived

Who in college isn’t pounding the caffeine?

Students who force themselves through weeks upon weeks of 4-6 hour sleep nights, are significantly deteriorating two aspects of their mental performance critical to studying for exams: motivation and vigilance.

Studies show that poor sleep negatively impacts motivation.[2] But really, no one needs a study to tell them how much worse your outlook on life is when you’re low on sleep.

And vigilance,[3]the ability to maintain concentrated attention over prolonged periods of time, is also significantly reduced during a period of either acute (staying up all night studying), or chronic (cutting sleep short for multiple days) sleep deprivation.[4]

Set yourself an end-of-the-day alarm.

Yes, studying more consistently for shorter chunks will allow you to spread it over a longer period of time; therefore, preventing the need to deprive yourself of sleep just to get your coursework done. But really, it’s a psychological issue.

There are a million things we’d rather stay up and do, than go right to bed after a full day of classes, only to have to get up and do the same thing over again. This is a chicken/egg problem: if I don’t get sleep I procrastinate studying, but if I go to bed I’ll just have to get up and study. Again, lose-lose. We need to break the cycle.

Set yourself an alarm. But not in the morning. Set your alarm for 45 minutes before when you should get to sleep and allow yourself to sleep for a full 8 hours. If you adhere to that you’ll be surprised how many hours of free time seem to materialize.

Study time + free time + sleep = happy and successful students.

3. You have a false sense of security

You may think you’re being a diligent student, sitting there in the lecture, listening intently, copying down page after page of notes from the professor. You might even be following along and raise your hand here and there. But there’s a big difference between feeling like you understand something, and actually being able to reproduce it on a test.

This is what we call passive learning, and it’s the best way to ensure that you’ll spend a lot of time and effort trying to learn new material, without actually being able to retain any of it.

Advertising

Quiz yourself.

Don’t be fooled by your professor’s overly logical explanations. This dude already knows the material, so it’s easy for him to explain it in a way that others find understandable. The real challenge is whether or not you can do the same.

If you’re wondering if you actually understand something, quiz yourself. Or better yet, explain it to someone (or yourself, but be warned: people tend to stare).

As Einstein liked to say, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

By routinely quizzing yourself, you’ll get a dose of reality of whether you actually know the material or not, instead of what most students do: assume they know it until the night before the test, when they proceed to freak out because they can’t do any of the practice problems.

4. Not all study time is created equal

Fact: seven hours of studying over 7 days is much more effective (more learning per time spent) for understanding new material than 7 hours of studying in one chunk. This is especially true for technical courses with new jargon you have to internalize.

Chunk your study time.

The brain uses a ton of energy (20% of our resting metabolic rate), and there’s only so much you can expend per day. To maximize your retention of new material, you want to take advantage of both active learning and recovery.

Because the brain consolidates new neural pathways during sleep, particularly during REM sleep, the more sleep cycles you intersperse between your study hours, the more likely it is that you will retain the material and be able to whip it out on test day.

This also allows you to take advantage of spaced repetition. Instead of having to constantly review your material to keep it in the forefront of your memory, you can follow a cycle of ever-increasing time intervals between review sessions (the “forgetting curve”), decreasing the overall amount of time needed to re-learn material you might have forgotten from the beginning of the semester when the final rolls around.

5. The planning fallacy

Humans systematically overestimate what can be accomplished in the short-term, and underestimate what can be accomplished in the long-term.

Ironically (and sadly), we only have this problem evaluating our own tasks – providing a pretty accurate picture of how long things will take when evaluating someone else’s situation objectively.

Advertising

Use the 50% rule.

Estimate as conservatively as you can, how much time it’s going to take to study for your exam, assuming you start early and work consistently.

Done?

Okay. Now add 50% to that estimate.

This will give you a more accurate picture of how much time you really need to allocate to starting studying.

6. You think you have more study time than you do

141025-study-definition

    Pull up your Sunday schedule. What do you see?

    Oh looks like I’ve got a big chunk of free time from 4pm to 10pm. Perfect, I’ll just squeeze in 5 or 6 hours of studying and then call it a night.

    Try again. It’s more like 2-3 hours.

    This is another type of planning mistake: overestimating how much productive time we can extract from any given period.

    Things we tend to forget: we need to eat; we need to sleep; there will be interruptions (yea right like you’re actually going to shut off your phone).

    Advertising

    But another thing we fail to account for: the body goes through 90-120 minute activity cycles (called the Ultradian Rhythm). So even though you may be sitting there, highlighting your textbook for 3 hours straight, you really only have the ability to absorb material for 1.5 to 2 hours before you need a period of rest.

    Cut your estimated hours in half.

    If you think you have 8 hours on Sunday after the game to study, forget it. You actually have 4 or less when you take out time for eating, breaks, and normal daily activities.

    7. You can’t get motivated or focused

    A lot of us tend to sit around and wait…

    Waiting for the wave of motivation to strike us to finally get started on the homework assignment due in 24 hours, or studying for the midterm.

    Here’s the problem: motivation comes and goes, but the demands of school and learning and everyday life don’t. And if you’re relying on your motivation to keep you focused, everything you’re doing is going to be in a perpetual state of lateness and last-minute-ness, because there’s never enough motivation to go around.

    Focus on the process, with the end in mind.

    Why are you in school? Why do you want a degree? Get clear on exactly what your motivations are.

    But thinking about the future is not enough. That vision of the future that drives your emotional intensity needs to be linked to your daily activities. (e.g. “Each day I study for Calculus brings me one step closer to being a doctor and making a difference in people’s lives.”)

    What is the one set of activities each day that will virtually guarantee success in your coursework?

    And what can you do to organize your day, set up incentives, quit things that don’t matter, etc. to virtually guarantee you will do that one set of activities day in and day out, despite motivation?

    Featured photo credit: Melanie Deziel via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    7 Reasons You Won’t Start Studying Until It’s Too Late, And What To Do About It The 3 Things Elon Musk Knows About School That All Students Should Copy 10 Ways for Students to Crush It Next Semester 20 Funny Things Everyone Can Do Every Day to Get Smarter 10 counterintuitive quotes on learning that will make you a better student

    Trending in Learning

    1 9 Steps to Make Self-Regulated Learning More Effective 2 How To Find Motivation To Learn Anything Outside of Comfort Zone 3 How to Take Constructive Criticism Like a Champ 4 How To Apply the Stages Of Learning (With Free Worksheet) 5 10 Best Methods of Learning Smarter and Faster

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Published on April 15, 2021

    9 Steps to Make Self-Regulated Learning More Effective

    9 Steps to Make Self-Regulated Learning More Effective

    You have probably heard of the saying, “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.”

    That old cliché gets thrown around quite a bit in educational circles, but what really goes into inspiring people to become independent, lifelong learners? Read on to learn more about self-regulated learning and how to make it more effective.

    Self-Regulated Learning

    One theory about teaching people how to learn is through self-regulated learning. In the broadest sense, it’s the idea that individuals should set their own learning goals and work independently and with a sense of agency and autonomy to achieve those goals. It’s the opposite of a teacher handing out a worksheet and students completing it just because the teacher told them to.

    Self-regulated learning is constructive and self-directed.[1] Instead of the worksheet example, self-regulated learning involves the students setting their own learning goals, deciding how to best achieve those goals, and then systematically and strategically working toward them. Teaching strategies like the Workshop Model and Portfolios are more aligned with self-regulated learning than a one-size-fits-all worksheet or lecture.

    Workshop Model

    The workshop model consists of three parts. Class begins with a mini-lesson, then students spend time working independently while the teacher circulates conferencing with students. Finally, the class ends with some kind of summary derived from what students learned through their independent work.

    Heavy hitters in the workshop model are Lucy Calkins and Nancie Atwell.[2][3] Their work has been instrumental in spreading best practices so that teachers know how to create truly student-led learning experiences.[4]

    Portfolios

    Another example of an instruction that’s moving toward self-regulated learning is student portfolios. Students set learning goals and periodically reflect on whether or not they’re achieving those goals. They keep all their reflections and student work in folders and have periodic conferences with their teacher on how they’re pressing toward their goals.[5]

    Advertising

    The problem though is that the workshop model and portfolios require a different mindset and skillset from teachers. That’s where the theory of self-regulated learning comes in.

    3 Elements of Self-Regulated Learning

    One approach to self-regulated learning is to break it down into three components: regulation of processing modes, regulation of the learning process, and regulation of self. Dividing self-regulated learning in this way helps teachers know how to best help students work toward their individual goals, and it also gives us a glimpse into how we all can become more self-regulated learners.

    1. Regulation of Processing Modes

    The first step in self-regulated learning is to give learners a choice in how and why they’re learning in the first place.

    In our worksheet example, students are completing the task because the teacher said so, but when we reset why we’re learning in the first place, we’re starting to create a foundation for self-regulated learning.

    One educational researcher, Noel Entwistle makes a distinction between three different reasons for learning, and his work makes what we’re all working toward a lot clearer. Students can try to reproduce or memorize information, they can try to get good grades, or they can seek personal understanding or meaning.[6]

    The goal of self-regulated learning is to encourage students to move away from the first two learning orientations (following orders and trying to get good grades) and move toward the third, learning for some kind of intrinsic gain—learning to learn.

    2. Regulation of Learning Process

    The next level of self-regulated learning is when students are in charge of their own learning process. This is also known as metacognition. Studies have shown that when teachers do most of the heavy lifting—deciding what’s working and not working for each student—there’s a reduction in students’ metacognitive skills.[7]

    Advertising

    When I was teaching middle and high school, we had a saying that if we left the building at the end of the school day more tired than the students, we hadn’t done our job. What that means is that teachers have to find a way to get students to do the heavy lifting of metacognition—thinking about thinking. And students need to accept the challenge and become curious about what’s working and not working about their individualized and (at least, partially) self-generated learning plans.

    Boosting metacognition might include learning about how the brain works, what metacognition is all about, and all the different learning styles. Becoming curious about your individual strengths and learning preferences is crucial in beefing up your metacognitive skills.

    3. Regulation of Self

    Finally, there’s goal setting. If students are going to become truly self-regulated learners, they have to start setting their own goals and then reflecting on their progress toward those goals.

    How to Make Self-Regulated Learning More Effective

    Now that you’ve learned the important elements of self-regulated learning, here are 9 ways you can make it more effective for you.

    1. Change Your Mindset About Learning

    The first way to become a self-regulated learner is to change your mindset about why you’re learning in the first place. Instead of doing your schoolwork because the teacher says so or because you want the highest GPA, try to move toward learning to satisfy your curiosity. Learn because you want to learn.

    Sometimes, this will be easy, like when you’re learning something on your own that you’ve self-selected. Other times, it’s tougher, like when you have a teacher-selected assignment due.

    Before mindlessly completing your assignment, try to find “your in.” Find what’s fascinating about the topic and cling to that as you complete it. Sure, you need to complete it to graduate, but by finding the morsel that’s interesting to you, you’ll be able to start experiencing a more self-regulated kind of learning.

    Advertising

    2. Explore Different Learning Styles

    There are lots of different ways to learn: auditory, visual, spatial, and kinesthetic. Learn what all those styles mean and which ones feel especially effective for you.

    3. Learn How Learning Works

    Another great way to become a more self-regulated learner is to learn how learning works. Read up on cognitive science and psychology to figure out how we form memories, how we retain information, and how our emotions affect our learning. You have to understand the tools you’ve been given before you can wield those tools most optimally.

    4. Get Introspective

    Now it’s time to get introspective. Do a learning inventory and reflect on when you’ve been most and least successful in your learning.

    What’s your best subject? Why? When did you lose interest in a subject? Why? Ask yourself tough questions about how you learn, so you can move forward more strategically.

    5. Find Someone to Tell You Like It Is

    It’s also helpful to find someone who can be honest about your learning strengths and weaknesses. Find someone you trust who will be honest about your learning progress. If you lack self-awareness about your learning style and abilities, it’s difficult to be a self-regulated learner, so work with someone else to start becoming more self-aware.

    6. Set Some SMART Goals

    Now it’s time to set some learning goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. They’re a great way to become a self-regulated learner.[8]

    Instead of just saying, “I want to get better at Spanish,” you might set a SMART goal by saying “I want to memorize 100 new Spanish vocabulary words by next week.” Next week, you can test yourself and measure whether or not you’ve achieved your goal.

    Advertising

    It’s difficult to see how we’re progressing and learning when our goal is vague. Setting SMART goals gives you a clear barometer for your learning.

    7. Reflect on Your Progress

    Goals don’t mean much unless you measure your progress every now and then. Take time to determine whether or not you’ve achieved your SMART learning goals and why or why not you did. Self-reflection is a great way to boost self-awareness, which is a great way to become a self-regulated learner.

    8. Find Your Accountability Buddies

    Armed with your goals and deadlines, it’s time to find some trustworthy people to help keep you accountable. Now, your learning progress is your responsibility when you’re a self-regulated learner, but it doesn’t hurt to have some friends who know what your goals are. You can turn to this trustworthy group to discuss your learning progress and keep you motivated.

    9. Say It Loud and Proud

    There’s a phenomenon where we’re more likely to attain our goals when we’ve made them public.[9] Announcing our goals helps hold our feet to the fire. So, figure out a way to make your learning goals known. This might mean telling your accountability buddies, your teacher, or maybe even a social media group.

    Just know that you’re more likely to succeed when you’re not the only one who knows what your goals are.

    Final Thoughts

    Self-regulated learning is learning for learning’s sake. So, change your entire attitude about why you’re learning in the first place. Choose what you want to know more about or start with what interests you most when assigned a topic or project.

    Then, set SMART goals and periodically reflect on your progress. Self-awareness is a skill that can be practiced and improved. Make learning your job and your responsibility, and you’ll be well on your way toward becoming a self-regulated learner.

    You’ll never need to blame your learning struggles on someone or something else. Instead, you’ll have the self-awareness and abilities to be able to take your learning into your own hands and find a way forward no matter your current situation and limitations.

    Featured photo credit: Josefa nDiaz via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next